Saturday, 17 March 2007

So, Record Companies and DRM then

I hope you shouted "gobbledigeek" when you just saw DRM in the title as that is geekspeak, i.e. something you can't say to your mother and convey anything. DRM is digital rights management, that's the thing that stops you copying your iTunes song on to a MP3 player as it's not an iPod - although to be fair all the other people who created all the different type of music files do it too, Apple are just the biggest.

The record industry is going through turmoil right now trying to find a way to carry on making money when we all just want to get great music. The big music companies say that DRM or 'protecting the creative rights of the artist to get money for their songs' as they say, is essential to allow the record companies to make money and use some of that to pay artists. The key word there is 'some'. Not all of the money goes to the artists of course, the A&R men (talent spotters), marketeers, senior management etc in the record companies all need to be paid. Hang on, or do they? All that way of organising record companies was designed over the last forty years when it was easy to control their income as the only way you could get music was on vinyl records and CDs. We all made copies for our mates, but those were poor copies and a copy of a copy was unlistenable. To slip into geekdom for a sec - they were analogue copies which deteriorate each time you copy, with new digital stuff you can go on copying until the cows come home - moo! Woah, Daisy!

So, if you were setting up a record company today you wouldn't invent lots of layers of management because you couldn't afford it with an online 'business model' (gobbledigeek! the way the money is earned and shared among the different companies involved with making something so they all make a bit of profit).

And of course people are setting up record companies all the time, it's called the indy sector for some reason, presumably a name invented by the non-indy big boys.

Indy's can make and distribute music files for a fraction of the cost of the big boys, that's because a) there's no layers of management to pay; and b) they know something the big boys don't - that being in the music business is about getting your product out there for free, getting the excitement up. Then, and only then, you make the money from live concerts. That may sound mercenary but these guys have got to make money at some point, they need to eat and have new clothes and shoes like any of us.

Two interesting things there. Before records existed, musicians only made money from live concerts, that's the business they're in. Second, the big record companies themselves invented the single record in the 1940s as a promotional thing, not an end in it's own right. Singles were invented to sell albums. That's why they were cheap at first. That had been forgotten a couple of decades later by a new generation of record company bosses and they started hiking the cost of singles to make extra dosh. By the time we got to the 1990s, single were seen as 'the core business' by some, hence pap content like a new cereal being invented (choco-minty-friskies anyone?).

So, we come bang up to date and the sad state of the record industry today, they feel embattled by some terrible bunch of people who just want to listen to music and not pay, who are these terrors?! Er, right, oh...their customers. By now, we can all see they need a new business model so that's what they busying themselves with. One way out of all this is of course the disappearance of big record companies (or their business model (am I being sponsored to say that phrase?)) and music being sold either by the bands themselves via their own websites, or some sort of music community site will win through that allows you to get any music downloads and play them on any player, but the artist gets a payment from that. The definitive music portal. Someone like the lovely people at Wikipedia ought to invent that sharpish. If they do, have the idea for free on one condition, you give gobbledigeek free promotion for ever on the home page.

Go live!